5 years after death, Hendrick's spirit lives through children's hospital

5 years after death, Hendrick's spirit lives through children's hospital

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by GREG BAILEY / NewsChannel 36

WCNC.com

Posted on October 13, 2009 at 7:29 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 13 at 7:39 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's been nearly five years since NASCAR titan Rck Hendrick lost his son, nieces, his brother and members of his race team in a plane crash outside Martinsville, Va.

Hendrick's response to that tragic loss and the path he and wife took to honor his son's memory has changed everything for hundreds of children in the Carolinas.

From the scattered wreckage of lives lost on a mountain side in Virginia, a mother and father coped with a promise to the son they lost too soon.

Rick Hendrick pauses when asked about his son, Ricky.

"I never want his spirit or the memories or what he stood for to fade away," he said.

In a life filled with championships and millions, Rick Hendrick never lost sight of significance.

"You'd give up everything that you own, you'd do whatever, hoping that child has a chance at life," he said.

Ricky Hendrick lived that life of hope, traveling the country to mentor foster children. When his parents thought about the young people who approached them, the lives their son had changed, they knew what to do.

"There's nothing that we could have done in his honor that he would have loved more than that hospital," said Hendrick.

Today, images of Ricky Hendrick greet those families -- the ones who would give anything for a healthy child -- when they walk into the Center for Pediatric Intensive Care at Levine Children's Hospital.

"If you show up they're going to take care of you. And that's such a wonderful… that's why it's there with our name on it and with Ricky's name on it," Rick Hendrick said.

Thanks to the Hendricks' gift in their son's name, every detail sets a standard for pediatric care in this country -- from the bright colors in the lobby to the state-of-the-art rooms that instantly convert to surgery centers for the most desperate cases.

Nearly five years after his death, Ricky Hendrick's spirit is alive and busy, helping save young lives in the Carolinas.

Lives like 2-year-old Alex.

Alex's mom will never forget the look on her doctor's face. Just hours after Alex was born, he was in trouble.

"He was critically ill and the doctors didn't think he was going to make it," Allison Gray said. 

He spent the first seven weeks of his life in intensive care, fighting an infection that could have killed him.

"He needed to be put on a special machine called ECMO. That was going to be his last resort to keep him alive," Gray said.

Thanks to the elite team at Levine, little Alex emerged and he, in turn, passed along the gift of life as a marrow donor when his big brother, Matt, was diagnosed with leukemia.

"His only chance at survival was a bone marrow transplant. And the best part of our story was that his little brother was a match, a perfect match," Gray said.

Those are just two lives of the hundreds that have been saved.

One young life and the next, forever joined by the ultimate gift and that promise -- one that only parents can truly understand.

That's exactly what Ricky Hendrick's parents hoped for when they honored their son's memory.

"I always want him around, the love and the caring that he had for other people," Rick Hendrick said.

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